Information about the landlords and agents, and recipients of payments, for MPs’ rental accommodation under the MPs’ Scheme of Business Costs and Expenses (the Scheme). Specifically, you asked for the name, by MP of the landlord, agent (where relevant) and the details of the persons paid for the rent.
Your request has been handled under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA).
We can confirm that we hold the information you request. We have considered the release of the information you request on a case by case basis. As of 22 October, there were 320 Members of Parliament claiming for rental accommodation under the Scheme. We approached you on 18th October to let you know about the delay in responding and the likely timing of a response. We had anticipated that we would not be able to provide a response before the end of November, but we have managed to bring this date forward.
As a first step, it might be helpful to provide some background.
Transparency is a fundamental principle for IPSA, and a statutory obligation under the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009. In reaching judgements about the release of information, we need to balance the importance of transparency, the requirements of FOIA and our statutory duties under the Data Protection Act 1998. In view of the fact that your request is for information relating to residential addresses, we also need to protect appropriately the security of Members of Parliament and their families.
IPSA’s policy is set out in our response to the Publication Consultation in 2010 (www.parliamentarystandards.org.uk ) and was developed in consultation with both the Information Commissioner and the Serjeant at Arms in the House of Commons.
The policy is that IPSA will publish the first alphabetical block, and the first numerical block of the postcode of MPs’ residential addresses where claims are made for these properties under the Scheme. We explicitly stated at the time that the Policy was published that we would not publish the full postcode or address. We also informed Members of Parliament that they would need to inform suppliers of goods and services (including landlords) that their details may be published from time to time.
Our approach is based on the balance between giving the public enough information to be satisfied that the expenses claimed are within the provisions of the Scheme, and protecting the security of MPs and their families.
It is our view that there is nothing in principle to distinguish between the release of an MP’s address and information which would identify an MP’s address. Both pieces of information need to be treated in the same way.
Our response to your request
We have considered, for each individual MP, whether any of the relevant exemptions under the FOIA apply. In order to be in a position to do so, it has been necessary to contact each MP and to ascertain whether:
- the release of the information would immediately, or clearly lead to, the identification of the full postcode and address of their rental accommodation;
- the MP had specific, and evidenced security concerns that require IPSA to take additional steps to protect the identification of the address. In line with our agreed policy, such concerns have to be supported by the police and/or security agencies.
In addition, we needed to consider, in the case of each landlord and agent, whether any of the relevant exemptions under the FOIA applied. In order to do so, it has been necessary to contact each landlord and agent and provide them with an opportunity to make representations.
We received representations from a number of landlords and have applied exemptions in a number of cases as a result.
Section 40 FOIA – Personal information
We have considered whether the exemption at Section 40(2) of the FOI Act applies.
Section 40(2) FOIA provides that
- Any information to which a request for information relates is also exempt information if—
- (a) it constitutes personal data which do not fall within subsection (1), and
- (b) either the first or the second condition below is satisfied.
- (3) The first condition is—
- (a) in a case where the information falls within any of paragraphs (a) to (d) of the definition of “data” in section 1(1) of the Data Protection Act 1998, that the disclosure of the information to a member of the public otherwise than under this Act would contravene—
- (i) any of the data protection principles, or
- (ii) section 10 of that Act (right to prevent processing likely to cause damage or distress), and
- (b) in any other case, that the disclosure of the information to a member of the public otherwise than under this Act would contravene any of the data protection principles if the exemptions in section 33A(1) of the Data Protection Act 1998 (which relate to manual data held by public authorities) were disregarded.
We have considered whether the disclosure of the requested information would breach the First Data Protection Principle of the DPA. The First Data Protection Principle provides that
- Personal data shall be processed fairly and lawfully and, in particular, shall not be processed unless—
- (a) at least one of the conditions in Schedule 2 is met, and
- (b) in the case of sensitive personal data, at least one of the conditions in Schedule 3 is also met.
We can confirm that we have withheld the landlord/agent name under Section 40(2) on the basis that such disclosure would be "unfair processing" where an MP, landlord or agent demonstrated that
- the release of the landlord/agent name identifies or might clearly lead to the identification of the address and they have provided a rationale for this; and
- the individual has actively taken steps to avoid their address being in the public domain.
We can also confirm that we have withheld the landlord/agent name for the same reason where an MP has expressed concerns about security and provided supporting evidence of that concern.
We have also considered whether section 40(2) applies solely in relation to the fact that an identified living individual is a landlord/agent for an MP. We note that section 40 has no application to corporate bodies.
We have considered whether the disclosure of the landlord/agent name would breach any of the Data Protection Principles, in particular the First Data Protection Principle.
We consider that the disclosure of this fact would not be "unfair" to an individual landlord/agent. We have come to this view for the following reasons. In order to satisfy the “fairness” requirements we have
- informed all landlords/agents that the disclosure is to be made; and
- considered any representations made by landlords/agents which would support an argument that the disclosure would result in “prejudice to the rights and freedoms or legitimate interests of the [landlord]”.
We note that it is a requirement of the Scheme that rental agreements cannot be set up with connected parties. It is our considered view that the legitimate interests of the public in being assured that the rental agreements fall within the Scheme outweighs the arguments in favour of withholding the information.
We have also considered Section 43(2) of the Freedom of Information Act which provides that:
- (2) information is exempt information if its disclosure under this Act would, or would be likely to, prejudice the commercial interests of any person (including the public authority holding it)
We have considered this exemption and concluded that disclosure of the landlord’s identity would not prejudice the commercial interests of the MP or the landlord. In any event, it is not for IPSA to speculate as to whether there is any commercial detriment to a third party and the reasons why without evidence or input from that third party. Again, we have considered the legitimate public interest in disclosing the information and on the basis of the rationale set out have concluded that the public interest in disclosure outweighs the public interest in withholding the information.
At Annex A, in response to your request, is a full list of all Members of Parliament who, as at 22nd October, claim for rental accommodation under the MPs’ Scheme of Business Costs and Expenses. Where we do not hold information, this is marked “N/A” on the list. Where, by applying the exemptions listed above, we have withheld information, this is marked “Redacted”. We would point out that an exemption under Section 40(2) might have been applied because the address was identifiable, or because of an evidenced security concern.
You will also wish to note those rental agreements, marked with an asterisk where arrangements were in place on 22nd October, but have ceased by today’s date.